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The fateful encounter of the Monitor and the Merrimack, history's first-ever battle of ironclad ships, was not the U.S. Civil War's lone naval milestone. Desperate to break the stranglehold of the North's coastal blockade, the South built and sent into war the hand-powered submarine CSS Hunley. Armand Assante (as Lt. Dixon, the sub's skipper) and Donald Sutherland (as Gen. Beauregard, the Confederate commander at Charleston) star in this fact-based tale of The Hunley and its crew. The ship is iron, engineered from a large steam boiler. The crew consists of nine volunteers, men destined to change the world forever in a submersible ship that was the first combat vessel of its kind - and the last hope of the Confederacy.
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Top customer reviews
The submarine, the Hunley, is an old boiler which has been rigged to operate as a submarine. It killed two crews prior to the opening of this story and I personally felt my fear of claustrophobia rise up my backbone when these men got in the submarine--it is almost asking to be killed. They had raw courage and complete dedication to face such danger and suffering.
The Union fleet is off the coast blockading the ports of the Confederacy and it is vital that they break the blockade so they can receive supplies. The scenes of besieged Charleston are well done and communicate the horror of the war visited upon the civilians. I really enjoyed the scene of the bombed out theater when it comes under enemy fire and Assante's character saves the day when he rushes forward and has the band play the Bonnie Blue Flag which rallies the crowd. I like Armand Assante's acting; he did a splendid job. I especially liked his facial expressions. It is amazing what people can communicate with glances.
Donald Southerland did a good job as Beauregard, however I had the impression that he was playing a sophisticated Frenchman from Paris and not one from Louisiana. Maybe he could have studied his character a little bit more. For example, one of the crewmen is learning French because "it is the language of love" and he hesitatingly speaks to Beauregard in French and Southerland has a very atypical response. Beauregard being from New Orleans would have spoken to many people who could not speak French or not speak it fluently and he would probably have had a better response than that. It seems to be a typical problem with movies that the French of Louisiana get confused with the French of France.
Likewise the other crew members are presented as real human beings. There is an Irishman who likes to fight and he dislikes the Englishman on the crew. There is a newly-wed man who sends his wife a gift everyday and a 16 year old kid who is the essence of determination. Through time they "gel" together and become a team.
I like the fact that the usual anti-southern image of stupid, backward and inept people fighting against competent, reasonable American types is missing. Both sides believed in their causes--that's why the war was so bloody and lasted so long. It is a tribute to Americans that the wounds from the war have been healed to such an extent. Just compare it to the Islamic world where wounds never seem to get healed.
An intriguing story about creative people thinking outside the box and facing difficult challenges. I think it says something good about us as Americans.
By 1864, the Federal blockade had choked the southern Nation dry of almost all imported goods that could not be carried over land afer arriving in Matamoros, Mexico. The development of a truly practical underwater "torpedo boat" that could break the Union blockade was of necessity--blockade runners could not provide sufficient staples let alone war materiel. It took an ingenious engineer H. L. Hunley and an intrepid group of men to follow a drowned crew to show that underwater stealth warfare on a ship-sinking scale was possible. Unfortunately, it again yielded deadly results for the crew.
Viewers of the film will see excellent performances, absent the gore of parallel production "Andersonville"--inspiring in a way that shows why combatants on opposite sides of many conflicts come together many years later in mutual respect and admiration. Small wonder that tens of thousands attended the final military funeral of the remains of the Hunley crew in 2004, in Charleston, South Carolina, or that a German writer would ask: "Where's the DVD?"
While this is a genre of film that does not appeal to everyone, it will appeal to those who wish to understand what the conflict was like on the home front (Charleston), the types of personalities involved (from an apparently non-military crewman to the ambitious Pierre Toutaint Gustave Beauregard, eager to redeem himself after being shuffled off to South Carolina in the wake of failure at Manassas). Armand Assante puts in a great performance as Lt. Dixon, a part he apparently was not cast for but sought.
All in all, this is much more than a costume drama, and if the viewer will also read the historically accurate accounts of what was found in the actual raised H.L. Hunley craft (e.g. by Mark Ragan), it is an even more worthwhile journey into the past.